Aldi Süd stocked the ‘Champagner Sorbet’ back in 2012 as a promotional offer in the run-up to Christmas and hasn’t sold it since but the Champagne trade group Comité Inteprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) believed Aldi was infringing the protected designation of origin (PDO) ‘Champagne’.
CIVC asked Germany’s Federal Court of Justice for an injunction to prevent the discount retailer from selling the product, and the German court passed the case onto the ECJ.
The CIVC had argued that: "Registered names shall be protected against any direct or indirect commercial use of a registered name in respect of products not covered by the registration where [...] where using the name exploits the reputation of the protected name, including when those products are used as an ingredient."
However, the Luxembourg-based ECJ concluded: “If [the product] has, as one of its essential characteristics, a taste attributable primarily to champagne [the] product name does not take undue advantage of the protected designation of origin ‘Champagne’."
European judges noted that the name Champagne was used to convey an image of quality and prestige onto the sorbet and, in this sense, took advantage of the traditional French drink’s premium reputation. However, they said that Aldi did not take “undue advantage” and therefore could not be considered to exploit the reputation of PDO Champagne.
The Court added that the quantity of champagne in the sorbet - 12% - was “a significant but not, in itself, sufficient factor”.
“A PDO is protected not only against false or misleading indications which are liable to create a false impression as to the origin of the product concerned, but also against false or misleading indications relating to the nature or essential qualities of the product.”
Therefore, the fact that the sorbet did taste like Champagne suggested the use of the name on the packaging was neither false nor misleading, said the Court.
Finally, the Court noted that Aldi had incorporated the denomination Champagne into the name of the product in order to “openly claim a gustatory quality connected with it”, and in this respect did not amount to misuse, imitation or evocation in the context of EU rules on PDO protection.
Although the ECJ’s ruling carries weight, the final decision does not sit with the ECJ itself and will now go back to Germany’s federal court.
The full ECJ judgement can be read here.